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American Bittern - BirdForum Opus

Photo by Steve Messick
Lower Latham Reservoir, Weld County, Colorado, May 2004
Botaurus lentiginosus


Length 58-86 cm (23-34 in), wingspan 105-125 cm, weight 370-570 g
A secretive, medium-sized, streaked brown heron.
Outer wing appears blackish brown in flight, contrasting with lighter brown of inner wing and body.
At close range adults show long black stripe down side of throat.

Similar Species

Photo © by Stanley Jones
Brazos Bend State Park. Fort Bend County, Texas, USA, 20 April 2021

Young Black-crowned Night Heron and Yellow-crowned Night Heron are similar but stockier, with shorter necks and more rounded wings without dark tips. They are also somewhat less secretive than bitterns.

As a vagrant in western Europe, distinguished from Eurasian Bittern by its somewhat smaller size, brown not black crown, black neck stripe, and more rufous-brown (not yellow-buff) tones, particularly on the neck.


Breeds from southeastern Alaska, Manitoba, and Newfoundland south to California, New Mexico, Arkansas, and South Carolina. Winters from coastal British Columbia, Southwest, Illinois, and along Atlantic Coast to Long Island (occasionally farther north), and south to Costa Rica (rarely) and Greater Antilles. A rare autumn to winter vagrant to western Europe, with most of the records from Iceland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the Azores.


This is a monotypic species[1].


Freshwater and brackish marshes and marshy lakeshores; regular in salt marshes during migration and winter.



2-6 buff or olive-buff eggs placed on a platform of reeds concealed in a marsh. Does not nest in colonies.


On breeding grounds, a loud pumping sound, oong-KA-chunk! repeated a few times and often audible for half a mile. The call begins softly and slowly increases in volume.
Flight call a low kok-kok-kok.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

Recommended Citation

External Links

GSearch checked for 2020 platform.